Our shared Brexit delusion
Brexit has divided us. It has divided our government almost as much as it has divided our nation
Brexit has divided us. It has divided our government almost as much as it has divided our nation. Yet for all their differences, Britain’s political class do share one very important thing in common regarding Brexit: they are both peddling the fantasy that Britain is in control of its destiny. It is not.
Now to be sure, Britain’s politicians must do this. After all, that is what the people of Britain voted for in the referendum: to “take back control.” And of course, after decades of self-serving anti-EU propaganda premised on how Brussels was robbing us of our sovereignty by the Conservative party and the large section of the press who backs them, it would not sit well with the public to admit that by voting to leave the EU we have painted ourselves into a corner where we have less control over our destiny than at any time since the Spanish Armada.
Nor could any prime minister ever admit to events being beyond their control. We have adopted a rather perverse cult of political leadership in our political culture which means that any prime minister who fails to shout constantly about how they are in complete control of the situation has basically tendered their resignation. And that is not just for the Conservatives or the government.
So Theresa May is stuck dishing out one drab mantra after another, “Brexit means Brexit,” “red white and blue Brexit” and all the rest of it, in the hope that this will distract the public from the obvious fact that the events are out of her hands. Boris Johnson, for his part, keeps serving carefully measured portions of fluffy verbiage in the hope that people will fail to notice that we cannot have our cake and eat it after all. And the Conservative party keep fighting a civil war in the press over the direction of Brexit as if they matter. They do not. This is all an empty political performance.
The EU project is in real trouble from populist insurgencies like our Brexit vote, and Europe’s leaders would never jeopardize it any further by rewarding this kind of rebellious behaviorDr. Azeem Ibrahim
The facts of Brexit are simple: either we stay in the Common Market which means that Britain will have a very similar relationship with the EU except it will not have any input in the decision processes in Brussels, even as we will continue to have to pay into the EU budget similarly large contributions and we will continue to accept full freedom of movement for people. This is something that Theresa May has already ruled out. Or, we will be cut out of any significant relationship with Europe and cast adrift into the Atlantic, easy pray for foreign corporations and the Chinese to plunder.
There is no middle way. Nobody in Europe has a net incentive to give us a mixed deal where we can have some of the advantages of belonging to the single market without paying for all of its costs. And the reason for this should be bleedingly obvious: the EU project is in real trouble from populist insurgencies like our Brexit vote, and Europe’s leaders would never jeopardize it any further by rewarding this kind of rebellious behaviour. They know that the moment that they give any undue concessions to the UK, everyone will want their own special arrangements and the EU will crumble within a decade.
All the arguments over a hard or soft Brexit are purely for domestic consumption. Our politicians are merely positioning themselves to appeal either to Eurosceptics or pro-Europeans in future elections. Brexit is going to be a hard Brexit. That has already been decided in Brussels, Berlin and Paris. London has lost all control.
Azeem Ibrahim is Senior Fellow at the Centre for Global Policy and Adj Research Professor at the Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College. He completed his PhD from the University of Cambridge and served as an International Security Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and a World Fellow at Yale. Over the years he has met and advised numerous world leaders on policy development and was ranked as a Top 100 Global Thinker by the European Social Think Tank in 2010 and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. He tweets @AzeemIbrahim